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Class and Culture Essay


Introduction

In various societies across the globe, culture is normally seen as an enabling or limiting factor for social, political and economic progression. Through this understanding it has been established that there is a strong relationship between class and culture.

This relationship has been previously investigated by researchers such as Pierre Bourdieu who identified that class affects culture and consequently, culture affects ones life chances, income and other economic parameters (Lane 2000, p. 1).

Many other researchers have often voiced their concerns over the increased gap between the rich and the poor (worldwide) and expressed their concern over the fact that the world has failed to acknowledge the role of culture in widening this gap (Fieschi 2011, p. 1).

The relationship between class and culture is of a vertical nature and it has been evidenced all over the world that the culture of the highest class is the most distinguished culture (Christie 2001, p. 201). This observation is true because the culture of the highest classes is often deemed to be superior to the culture of the lowest classes.

More importantly, it is essential to understand that the culture of the highest classes also stands out because the ruling class normally comes from the highest classes and so they exert their influence over other classes.

From this reinforced relationship between class and culture, many philosophers have come up with a new insight purporting that culture in its true essence maintains class domination and therefore there is no strongly distinguishable difference in the way culture and economics relate, and how economic capital works (Fieschi 2011, p. 1).

However, this debate is not only one-sided because in recent decades, there has been an upsurge of popular culture which seeks to encompass both low and high classes, thereby breaking the cultural wall that have been perceived to draw the line between the culture of the highest classes and that of the lowest classes (Motz 1994, p. 239).

Popular culture has brought a new twist to Pierre’s view of culture and economics because popular culture encompasses the attitudes, beliefs, values, ideas and perspectives of the majority and therefore, it cuts across the class divide to create a holistic perspective of culture.

In the 21st century, the Western culture has stood out to be a popular culture sweeping across the globe and it is generally perpetrated by the media, though movies, sitcoms, magazines and the likes. Some researchers have identified this culture to be the American culture and proponents of the postmodern view do not even see the distinction between popular culture and the “high culture” (Motz 1994, p. 239).

From this analysis, its is therefore quite difficult to establish whether the initial view of culture through class distinction still holds water, but deriving its conclusions, from present life events and current research studies, this study establishes that culture and class are still vertically ranked and the culture of the highest class still stands out as the most dominant culture.

Unrealistic Mass Culture

Since popular culture has been advanced by proponents of postmodern view that it transcends culture and class differentials; it is important to note that the advancement of popular culture through the media already punctures holes in their postmodern view of culture and class.

This view is firmly held by past philosophers such as Nietzsche and Karl Marx, both of whom extensively criticized the role of the media in propagating mass culture (Kellner 2011, p. 1). In other words, they identify that there is no mass culture and its insinuation is a creation of the media and an attempt to make people escape from the realities of life.

Karl max especially launches an attack against the media in its attempt to propagate popular culture by identifying that the media is everywhere and “busy” in giving people whatever they want to hear.

Goethe, another philosopher with the same view identified that the media inhibited creativity in the sense that, people spend countless hours reading and wasting their days without sitting down and coming up with something creative or something which is new and original (Kellner 2011, p. 6).

In other words, the media has been criticized for upholding passivity and conformity to given principles, attitudes and perspectives about life, without feeding the masses with dissenting ideas that can help them grow in their own light.

From this analysis, we can see that the media has done a god job in shaping public opinion and even though it has also done a commendable job enlightening the masses and promoting social freedom; its success is not true in the case of portraying the true picture regarding culture and social classes.

Gans (1999) identifies that the points of view expressed by popular culture is a fallacy and a creation of the writers and journalists who write about popular culture. Often, they have been criticized by critics of popular culture that they have failed to conform to the principles of high culture and therefore they criticize it.

Much to their advantage, they have been given the time of day because their audience is essentially people of low culture (the masses) and therefore they have found a big market for their works.

This situation, has even led to the arrogance of some writers and journalists of popular culture who have stated in the past that so long as their audience buys their works, proponents of the high culture are either wrong or irrelevant (Gans 1999, p. 145). In this manner, they have consistently ignored criticisms from proponents of the high culture because they value the critics of their audience more.

However, considering most popular culture authors critic works from the high culture and upper middle social classes, it has been identified that most of their readers are not versant with what the authors are critiquing and therefore they cannot critic any of the works written by writers of popular culture.

For instance, proponents of popular culture (such as those cited in New York daily news) have been known to critic movies from foreign producers which their low culture readership has never seen and therefore they do not receive any criticism from their audience (Gans 1999, p. 145).

This analysis shows that the upsurge of popular culture is possibly built on fallacies and misconceptions, most of which are not factual. Its spread has therefore been attributed to the fact that most of the followers of low culture readership essentially encompass followers of the popular culture and therefore cannot critic the media’s role in propagating popular culture.

The point of view advocated by proponents of popular culture is misleading and therefore there is a distinction between what they believe is good for themselves and what they believe will sell in the public. The distinction between the two is explained by Gans (1999) who states that:

“The advocates of high culture interpret the existence of this distinction as evidence of the universality of their own standards and conclude that people either want more high culture than they actually get or that they prefer to choose what they think is bad as opposed to what they think is good. Both interpretations are inaccurate and reflect the invisibility of the aesthetic standards of the other taste cultures” (p. 146).

Culture, as advocated by Fieschi (2011, p. 11), is an emancipator tool in the sense that, through it, the society can remove all social inequalities (by demystifying social classes). However, this point of view has not been embraced by the society. The reality on the ground is that culture and class are uniquely configured in various societies across the globe.

Moreover, in developed societies where popular culture is believed to emanate from; there is still a strong link between culture and class. For instance in Britain, the cultural distinctions and the upheaval of the high culture is still strong (as can be evidenced from Kate Fox’s Watching the English) (Fieschi 2011, p. 11).

This is to say that the British society is still confined to political, economic, and social distinctions of class barriers (even though it possesses a lot of cultural and creative freedoms). To expose the deep-seated cultural and class divide in the British society, Fieschi (2011) states that:

“Culture in the UK, in other words, is still a reflection of the reality of Britain in the twenty-first century. Yet, alarmingly, and as pointed out by Gunnell and Bright in their 2010 Arts Council England report, Creative Survival in Hard Times, employment in the creative industries is in danger of becoming the preserve of a certain, exclusive class” (p. 12).

From this analysis, we see that the bold leap into mass culture (or popular culture) as proposed by proponents of the postmodern view is still marred by idealistic barriers and from a general sense; many people are still lazy to embrace the new concept.

Promotion of the High Culture

Contrary to popular belief that popular culture is quickly gaining ground, there is still a high promotion of high culture throughout the society. This is because many people still desire to be among the elite and to conform to certain preferred principles of the high culture. This is true because even in present-day society, low culture is still frowned upon and the promotion of high culture is still receiving support from all quarters.

This support did not however start in recent times but in the 19th century when high culture was extensively promoted through museums, theatre, concert halls and the likes, to give people more access to the high culture (this is the reason why classical music is still appreciated and held in high-esteem to date) (Spring 1998, p. 79).

Currently, the access to University education has spread globally, and especially through the introduction of information technology (IT) enabling learning tools, but it should be acknowledged that university education is one of the widest platform through which high culture spreads. This is true because frankly, all elements of high culture are taught in university through various arts, linguistic, business and affiliated courses.

This is a new development because in previous centuries, elements of high culture (probably with the exception of classics) were not included in the education system. This fact therefore exposes the increasingly dominant nature of the high culture in the society.

To further affirm this view, it is essential to identify the increased uptake of liberal arts courses in university which essentially promotes concepts of the high culture, while generally shunning elements of the low culture. This is however not evidently seen because most universities have dropped the use of the term “high culture” but still teach its elements.

Governments are also embroiled in the promotion of high culture, probably because a number of them are run by the ruling class who also profess the high culture.

The involvement of the government is quite extensive but in the boldest of efforts, most governments in developed countries have come in to promote high culture through subsidies and increased funding of museums, operas, ballet companies, orchestras, cinemas (and such like forums) (Spring 1998, p. 79).

The government influence and promotion of high culture is actually quite deep as can be seen in Britain where a fully-fledged government minister runs the Arts council. The same situation is also evidenced in most European countries.

The momentum for promoting high culture has even increased because of the fact that there has been an increased demand for American movies, music and such like media elements which are threatening the very existence of European culture (for instance) and virtually all cultures across the globe.

Spring (1998, p. 79) explains that the European commission has in the recent past focused a lot on high culture because of the influence by certain media conglomerates in the US which have consistently promoted the spread of American culture across the continents.

Europe in its totality has therefore embarked on an effort to promote classical music paintings and other artifacts considered to be high art through a number of programs such as the Kaleidoscope program, Copenhagen program and the likes (Spring 1998, p. 79).

Though governments in the developing world have not perfected the concept of subsidies for intellectual property and the likes, governments in the developed world have consistently subsidized the works of new composers, writers and artists (most of whom propagate the high culture).

Such is the situation in the United States where the government has consistently supported private philanthropic funding of various forms of culture forums. However, the government has also taken a direct involvement in funding such programs, as can be seen in the federally funded corporation for public broadcasting (though the target audience is not necessary the public).

The promotion of high culture is also upheld by the high appreciation of high art in the society. In fact, high art is sometimes considered priceless and invaluable in some English societies and the same situation is not different from other societies either (Everett1995, p. 228).

High art in its own distinction is a basic component of high culture and it encompasses various forms of art (including visual arts, literature, music and the likes).

Products of high art were essentially common in the sophisticated and increasingly wealthy societies of the high civilization period but its appreciation is evidenced throughout the world (through high art works coming from ancient Egypt, ancient, Greece, ancient Rome, ancient China, ancient India, Byzantium, Persia, Europe from the 14th century, and selected cultures in the Middle east).

High Culture in the Ruling Elite

The ruling elite in most societies have often been perceived to profess the high culture. This situation has often been the case in most democracies (even big democracies such as Britain and America). Also, when people from lower cultures get into leadership, they adopt the high culture eventually. This trend has even been observed when popular culture is said to take root in most societies.

There is a unique and synonymous attribution of the high culture to elitism and superiority which gives most rulers the right to govern the rest and those who do not conform to such principles are regarded unfit to rule. In other words, leadership is often presumed to be a preserve of the elite, or those hailing from the highest and the upper middle classes. Though not necessarily popular, the high culture is normally held in high esteem.

The Caribbean is evidence of the upheaval of the high culture because just like other colonial territories, for the locals to take up leadership positions, they had to be inculcated into the colonialist culture, which in this context, refers to the high culture (Victor 2009, p. 1). Only those who could properly master this culture were deemed fit for leadership whiles those who did not, were shunned away.

The situation has not changed much today because the high culture is still seen as one of the prerequisites of people who want to vie for leadership positions. Still bound to the Caribbean, the carnival event has been an important occasion in the country and to many external viewers; it seems like a rather popular movement.

However, tracing the root of the event, we see that it was derived from the high culture (masquerade) (Victor 2009, p. 1). Moreover, in the same locality, it was established that the carnival designers and their antecedents basically came from the high culture and the manner in which the carnivals are designed is essentially a mimic of the high culture in medieval times (Victor 2009, p. 1).

Moreover, the high culture is further held in high esteem from the fact that it’s been perceived as part of the Caribbean history.

The issue of governance and how many societies across the globe view the concept as a preserve of those who’ve perfected the high culture can even be evidenced in monarchial systems like Britain where the royal family is synonymous with the high culture. The ruling family in Britain is perceived as a critical core of the history of the country and positioned at the very core of the country’s heritage.

However, it is interesting to note that it is almost impossible to draw a line between the British monarchy and the high culture. Implicitly, it is therefore correct to note that the high culture is a significant part of the culture of Britain. Obviously, the country upholds the ruling family in high esteem and in the same manner; they uphold the culture that the ruling family professes.

This scenario is not only observed in Britain but all over the world where monarchies still exist. Evidently, this is the situation in Netherlands, Swaziland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, and Spain where the rulers have consistently professed the high culture and they are held in high esteem by their subjects (Project Britain 2009).

The same situation is also evidenced in governments which do not have monarchial systems because in many countries across the globe, the ruling class often profess the high culture and because the electorate vote them into their offices, it is correct to note that the society still upholds the high culture in high esteem.

Obviously, if this was not the case, and popular culture was as widespread as proponents of the postmodern view say; rulers would essentially hail from low cultures. In the world’s biggest democracy, America, successive regimes have often professed the high culture and even those who did not initially hail from such quarters, eventually professed it.

For instance, the election of the incumbent president, Barrack Obama may essentially be perceived as representative of the minority people in America but the president in his own individuality professes the high culture in that, he studied in one of the best universities around the world and is a trained lawyer (qualities which are synonymous to the high culture).

The same situation is evidenced in ruling families in the Arab world, Asia, Africa, Australia and other continents.

Conclusion

This study establishes the fact that class and culture are vertically related in the most mutually reinforcing ways and the view that popular culture is quickly gaining ground across the globe is misleading because the world is still hung on high culture and holds it in high-esteem.

Through this analysis, we can therefore conclude that the culture of the highest classes is still the most distinguishable because it is perceived as the most superior culture.

From the analysis of how the ruling class have essentially been sourced from the elite in the society, we can also establish that culture is a class signal that limits or extends ones chances in life and therefore, there is no significant difference in the manner economic capital works and how the relationship between class and capital works

. These factors withstanding, we can conclude that the postmodern argument and the view that popular culture has gripped the world is misleading and its time is yet to come.

References

Christie, C. (2001) Ideology and Revolution in Southeast Asia, 1900-1980. London, Routledge.

Everett, S. (1995) Art Theory and Criticism: An Anthology of Formalist, Avant-Garde, Contextualist and Post-Modernist Thought. London, McFarland.

Fieschi, C. (2011) Preface to Culture and Class. Web.

Gans, H. (1999) Popular Culture and High Culture. London, Routledge.

Kellner, D. (2011) . Web.

Lane, J. (2000) Pierre Bourdieu: A Critical Introduction. New York, Pluto Press.

Motz, M. (1994) Eye on the Future: Popular Culture Scholarship into the Twenty-First Century in Honor of Ray B. Browne. London, Popular Press.

Project Britain. (2009) British Monarchy A Waste of Time? Web.

Spring , J. (1998) Education And The Rise Of The Global Economy. London, Routledge.

Victor, D. (2009) How High Culture Affects The Caribbean. Web.

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"Class and Culture." IvyPanda, 14 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/class-and-culture-essay/.

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IvyPanda. "Class and Culture." December 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/class-and-culture-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Class and Culture." December 14, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/class-and-culture-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Class and Culture'. 14 December.

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